In the world of international art and antiques, it is well established that there are certain cities which form a hub, a concentration of buying and selling at all levels. Particularly, though, these hubs are the conduits for the absolute best of everything. You can probably name them all as they often appear on the packaging of luxury goods as a mark of global appeal; London, Paris and New York. You might also add Hong Kong, Los Angeles and Dubai to the mix as well, these cities are fast becoming centres of excellence. We are fortunate in Britain, therefore, to have one of these hubs, the draw of London to the international art market is so well recognised that it is woven into its very DNA. Small wonder, then, that regional auction salerooms around the country are increasingly exhibiting their best forthcoming lots during those periods of concentrated activity that happen almost monthly in the capital.
One of those events, and for me the most exciting and vibrant, is Asian Art Week which takes place in early November each year. Halls Fine Art and a group of other regional auctioneers get together to hire a gallery in Mayfair, right in the heart of the action, and put on a one-day exhibition on the first Sunday. We carefully choose the right lots, gathered during the previous few months, and transport them to London for a festival, now in its twenty-second year, that gathers over sixty specialist auctioneers, dealers and museums attracting thousands of visitors, collectors, buyers and connoisseurs from all over the world.
Halls Fine Art is a founder member of the Triple-A group, a consortium of auctioneers marketing directly to collectors in mainland China. Combining those resources means that a good gallery space can be hired for the event, set amidst the many auctions, exhibitions, previews and soirees that happen in Mayfair during Asian Art Week. Consequently we attract a first rate audience of buyers who are there to spend money and enjoy the great art and decorative objects on display. Each year, we gain new clients and take a raft of commission bids and telephone bids on forthcoming lots which can make a huge difference to the end result.
Among some of our noted successes was the cinnabar lacquer ‘Wang Xizhi and Geese’ brush pot which was consigned from a vendor in Bishops Castle. Exhibited in London, the pot was the sensation of the show and was viewed by dozens of eager collectors, including its eventual buyer, a connoisseur of brush pots from the Channel Islands. A number of telephone bids were booked and the little pot estimated at £20,000-40,000 was fought over fiercely to a premium inclusive £186,000.
Last year we selected ‘eight precious objects’ for display, appealing to the Chinese mythology surrounding the number eight which is considered very lucky. Of these, two were of particular interest although all were well viewed and much admired. The first notable success was a large guan-type hexagonal vase with an unusual blue-grey crackle glaze, marked for the Qianlong period (1736-1795). Estimated at £8,000-12,000 it sold to a London collector for £22,800 including premium. The second was a rare bottle vase decorated in the doucai manner with rich jewel-like enamels over a scene of pheasants amid peony and magnolia flowers, symbols combining to represent the Empress – hence we dubbed the piece ‘The Empress Vase’. Although unmarked and considered to be early 19th Century in date, many believed the vase to be much earlier, possibly from the reign of Yongzheng (1723-1735). Conservatively estimated at £3,000-5,000, it quickly exceeded expectations to eventually sell for £60,000 including premium.
This year among the treasures destined for the London exhibition will be a very large and impressive Khmer bronze figure of the Siva Mahadeva. Standing nearly 80cm (31.5 inches) high it is an impressive piece, the four-armed statue of this Hindu deity standing imposingly on a double-lotus base. The owner, a Yorkshire collector, has had the piece for several years but in the light of numerous offers from serious buyers, they decided to place it in auction to get a good audience. We hope it gets plenty of attention in Mayfair on 4 November and has a comfortable ride to achieve its £20,000-30,000 estimate on the sale day.
Also making the journey down will be a rare Chinese blue and white censer and cover, made for the Persian market, and marked for the emperor Xuande (1426-1435) and likely Ming Dynasty. This example has a replaced foot, re-created in silver, and a repair to the cover but its comparative rarity will still make it an attractive lot. Only two other examples have come to light in the last ten years, one of which achieved a seven-figure hammer price although was in better condition. Ours is estimated at £30,000-50,000 which, in the current dynamic climate, could be well exceeded although time will tell. It will be fascinating to see how the gallery goers will respond to it in London.
While most auctioneers enjoy an international audience thanks to the internet and live online bidding platforms, there is clearly no substitute for ‘taking the mountain to Muhammad’, so to speak. Getting our best lots out into the capital so that they can be seen and handled by the best audience is an essential part of our calendar and the results speak for themselves. It is an exercise that takes a great deal of effort to achieve but it is highly enjoyable and rewarding for us auctioneers in spite of that and, of course, incredibly beneficial for our vendors.